Posted: 26th May, 2023

Issue 7: Iron Deficiency in Pregnancy

Iron deficiency affects 50-77% of all pregnancies.
Did you know it takes 1 gram of iron to make a baby, that's equal to 177 steaks!

Anaemia can be detected by a simple blood test. As anaemia is so common in pregnancy, your midwife will routinely check your haemoglobin levels.

What is iron deficiency anaemia?

This is a condition caused by a lack of red blood cells or haemoglobin. In the UK, the most common reason for developing anaemia is not having enough iron.

Common symptoms of iron deficiency –

  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Irritability

You may also be at risk of becoming anaemic after giving birth. This is often due to losing blood during or shortly after giving birth.

*Video thanks to tommys.org

Who is more likely to get anaemia in pregnancy?

The main risk factors for developing anaemia in pregnancy are:

  • Already having low iron stores before becoming pregnant.
  • Having a pre-existing blood condition, such as sickle cell disease and
    thalassaemia.
  • Having an inflammatory bowel disorder which affects the gut’s ability to
  • absorb iron from food. Examples of these include inflammatory bowel
  • disease, coeliac disease, and previous surgery to the gut.
  • Having a higher demand for iron, such as having twins or triplets.
  • Being under 20 years old when you become pregnant.
  • Giving birth to your previous child less than 1 year ago.
  • Having anaemia in a previous pregnancy.

A good balanced diet is vital to make sure you receive enough iron.

What should I eat?

The most easily absorbed iron comes from red meat, fish and poultry. There are also vegetarian options, including lentils, fortified cereals and leafy green vegetables such as spinach. Vitamin C can help your body to absorb iron from food; this is found in orange juice and other fruits and vegetables.

Eat and drink more:

  • dark-green leafy vegetables like watercress and curly kale
  • cereals and bread with extra iron in them (fortified)
  • meat
  • dried fruit like apricots, prunes and raisins
  • pulses (beans, peas and lentils)
  • nuts

Free prescriptions for pregnant people

If you're pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months, you get free prescriptions if you have a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx).

Speak to your midwife, doctor or health visitor. They’ll complete the application for you. They can do this as soon as they confirm that you’re pregnant.

If they use the digital maternity exemption service, you can get your certificate by email as soon as they have completed the application.

Otherwise, you’ll get a paper certificate in the post within 10 working days of us receiving your application.

The certificate will last until 12 months after the expected date of birth of your baby. If your baby’s born early, you can continue to use your certificate until it expires. If your baby is born late, you can apply for an extension. If you apply after your baby is born, your certificate will last for 12 months from your baby’s birth.

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